E-mail pagers used at airport to check criminal records

The Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport) has equipped state police troopers at Boston's Logan International Airport with 10 BlackBerry wireless e-mail pagers that allow them to easily check passengers randomly selected for interviews against criminal records in the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation's National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database.

Thomas J. Kinton Jr., acting executive director for Massport, said in a statement that the BlackBerries, manufactured by Research In Motion Ltd. in Waterloo, Ontario, allow troopers to "check immediately if an individual is wanted by law enforcement." Kinton said. "This gives our agents an added tool as they conduct one-on-one interviews and strengthens our multilayered security system at Logan."

The troopers using the BlackBerries (which are unavailable in Australia) in the two-month test have concentrated their patrols in the airport terminals, parking facilities and the taxi pool, Kinton said. Individuals and cars are selected randomly as troopers patrol the airport.

The trooper uses the handheld device, which includes a standard QWERTY keyboard, to type in an individual's name and address. He then use the pager to check the individual against the NCIC database, which contains information on outstanding warrants, previous felonies or stolen vehicles. The device eliminates the need for the trooper to call a dispatcher over a voice radio and then have the dispatcher type the information into a terminal that can access the NCIC database.

If the pilot program, which ends at the end of this month, proves successful, Massport said it will consider expanding the system to tap into other databases, including state records and federal watch lists.

Aether Systems Inc. in Owings Mill, Md., loaned the 10 e-mail pagers used in the Logan pilot program. David Grip, marketing director for Aether's mobile government group, said the pagers at Logan run the company's PocketBlue software, which is designed to adapt the BlackBerry and is widely used by corporate road warriors for public safety use.

Aether charges US$89 per month for the PocketBlue software, which includes built-in encryption algorithms for security and airtime over a dedicated wireless data network operated by Cingular Wireless Inc. in Atlanta. Public safety agencies usually need to buy the BlackBerry hardware, which starts at $350, but Aether is running a promotion through March that includes free hardware, much like cellular carriers give away phones to customers who sign up for a specified period of time, Grip said.

Grip said Aether "expects" the PocketBlue pilot at Logan will lead to a follow-on contract, but added that nothing has been signed yet.

Two of the aircraft involved in last September's terrorist attacks were hijacked from Logan. Since then, Massport has worked to beef up its security with tests of a number of high-tech systems, including facial recognition technology and automated document matching systems.

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